Sunday, February 15, 2015

Minutal Ex Praecoquis -- Ham and Apricot Ragout

I recently acquired The Roman Cookery of Apicius by John Edwards.  I already have some other cookbooks on the Roman Empire era but this one seemed more substantial and possibly more accessible for modern cooks.
ISBN 0-88179-008-7
What I like best about it is that it offers a translated version of ten of the books (chapters) of Apicius' work along with a modern adaptation for most of the recipes.  Some of the adaptations bothered me a little; for example Mr. Edwards suggests green beans, which to me is a New World bean.  I think the right substitution would be fava (broad) beans, which were used before Columbus brought back New World beans.

This book offers quite a few recipes that caught my interest, and this one fit in with what I already had in the house.

Original translation:

Minutal Ex Praecoquis

Into a cooking pot, put olive oil, stock, wine, dry chopped shallots, and a cooked leg of pork chopped into squares.  When these are cooked, grind pepper, cumin, dried mint, and aniseed [in a mortar].  [Over these seasonings] pour honey, stock, raisin wine, a little vinegar, and liquid from the ragout.  Blend.  [Cook.]  [Pour over the pork.] Add pitted apricots and heat until they are completely cooked.  [Add them to the ragout.] Break pasty into the dish to thicken it.  Sprinkle with pepper and serve.

Modern adaptation (given in two parts):

Ham and Apricot Ragout (page 93)

1 pound cooked ham, diced
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup pork stock
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup shallots, chopped

In a casserole, put ham, olive oil, stock, wine, and shallots.  Cook, covered, in the oven for 1 hour.

Tasty at this stage!
pinch each of whole pepper and cumin seed
1 sprig mint
pinch of aniseed
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup pork stock
1/4 cup sweet raisin wine or muscatel
1 teaspoon wine vinegar
1/4 cup casserole liquid
10 fresh apricots (or dried, presoaked in water)
ground pepper

To make the sauce, in a mortar, grind pepper with cumin, mint, and aniseed.  Combine with honey, stock, sweet wine, vinegar, and liquid from the casserole.  Bring the sauce to a boil and add to the ragout for the last 15 minutes.

When ragout is nearly done, take the apricots, divide in half, and pit them.  Add them to the casserole and cook together for 5 minutes. Finish by thickening with flour.  Serve with a sprinkling of pepper.

My Notes

I had no pork stock so I used instant chicken broth.

The recipe did not specify the oven temperature so I decided on 275 degrees F.  It seemed like the purpose was to slowly cook the shallots and to allow the flavors to mingle.

The ham, shallots, and liquids in the casserole smelled wonderful while it was cooking!

I used dried mint as per the original recipe and guessed about how much a sprig would be when dried.

It was amazing to find out that, in my large collection of spices, I had no aniseed.  Fortunately fennel is a good substitute so I used that. (Thank you, Cook's Thesaurus!)

Try as I might I could not find muscatel or raisin wine locally, so I used moscato, a sweet, slightly sparkling white wine and just hoped it would taste right.

Apricots are not currently in season so I used 20 dried halves and soaked them while the casserole was in the oven.

After the casserole had cooked for an hour, I made the sauce and added it to the casserole.  Then I set the timer for 15 more minutes.

The dried apricots made me think I would need to cook them longer than the five minutes given for fresh ones, so I put them into the casserole in the last 5 minutes of sauce and checked them when the timer buzzed.  They did not appear very tender and, following Apicius' advice, put them in for another 30 minutes to make sure "they are completely cooked."

At the beginning of the apricot's 30 minutes, I mixed about 2 tablespoons of flour with a little of the casserole liquid until it made a smooth, thick batter.  Then I added it to the casserole to thicken the dish.

The Verdict


Very tasty -- the spices and mint blended together to make a savory sauce, the shallots were nearly melted into the sauce, the ham chunks were tender and flavorful.  The apricots were, surprisingly, a background accent.  I thought they would stand out more but they did a great job of accenting the ham and broth.

If (when!) I make it again, I would cut the apricots up into quarters just to increase the odds of getting a piece with each spoonful of ham.

My only mistake was using the instant chicken broth as it made the dish too salty for me.  My guest taster loved it as it was.  But I thoroughly enjoyed it both at dinner with a green salad, buttered sourdough bread, and red wine, and for lunch the next day with crackers.

I would make this again and plan better on the broth.  I recommend it with enthusiasm!

Yum.  Give it a try.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Aebelskivers -- Swedish Pancakes and a Kitchen Gadget!

A long time ago I had a friend named Joe K.  One neat thing about Joe was how much he admired his mother and her talents.  When he found out I liked to cook, he got me some of her favorite recipes, among which was aebelskivers, AKA Swedish pancakes.

The recipe is written in her hand and I cherish it and the others with it.  I have made them and loved them; the recipe cards are yellowed with age and stained with food splatters.

Page 1.  I think her name was Betty.
My house was filled with family and I wanted to make a fun breakfast for them all.  Then I realized my blog goal to use some interesting kitchen gadgets would be perfect for this:  to make aebelskivers, you need an aebelskiver pan.

Mine is cast iron.  I don't know how old it is; I probably got it from one of my grandparents and I recall that aebelskivers were a bit of a fad in the 1960s and 1970s, so that could be when they purchased it.

Aebelskivers are tasty like American pancakes but they are lighter and ball-shaped.  The pan allows that shape to happen.  They are good served with a dusting of powdered sugar, or syrup, or jam, and a little bit of soft butter.  A great start to a fun breakfast.

(makes 56 cakes)

6 eggs, separated
1 3/4 cup buttermilk
2 1/2 cup sifted flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder

Separate eggs.  Add cream of tartar to whites and best until stiff but not dry-looking.  

Sift flour (pre-measured), sugar, salt, and baking powder together.  

Beat egg yolks, buttermilk, and vanilla together.

Add liquid ingredients to flour mixture and beat until smooth.  Fold in egg whites carefully.

Heat aebelskiver pan over burner until drop of water dances on bottom of cup.  Brush cups with salad oil.  Spoon 1/2 full with batter.

Turn once, using fork and paring knife (some people use knitting needles).

When brown on both sides, remove to hold in oven at approximately 250 degrees F.  

Frequently refold batter, as whites tend to rise to top.

Batter's up!
My Notes

The directions are straight-forward and easy to follow.  That being said, it has been a long time since I made aebelskivers so I made some mistakes when cooking them:

  • I put too much oil in the cups.  Just brush them lightly.  You don't want oil puddles.
Do not do this at home.
  • I beat the egg whites too much -- they got dry-looking and that made keeping the aebelskivers in their ball shape difficult when turning them.  They kept deflating!  
Stop before this stage
or they will be too flat!
  • I had some issues getting the pan to heat evenly, which I don't recall ever happening before.  I'm not sure why.  What I did was put the aebelskiver pan over an inverted cast iron skillet so that the skillet evened out the heat.
This burned off all the seasoning on the skillet
The Verdict

Success!  Oh yes, they were tasty!  We all enjoyed them despite my blunders and I would do them again any time I had the opportunity to feed a crowd.

Just some of the batch
We did discuss what could be done if you wanted the aebelskivers but didn't have the special pan. We tried baking them in mini-muffin pans at 350 degrees F but the texture was not the same.  They were certainly edible and tasty but they weren't pancake-like.  I think they would make good quick breads, especially with a spoonful of jam in the middle.

We also tried cooking them like regular pancakes, and had good results.  The flavor and the texture were right; the only thing missing was the cute and interesting ball shape.  So this is how I would recommend cooking them if you want to give them a try but you don't have or want to buy the pan.

By the way, the other recipes in the set are Apple Pfankuchen, Pfeffernüsse, and Lebkuchen.  All quite yummy!